I was unable to muster much more than a passing disinterest in today’s Dublin Bay South by-election. Maybe I’m getting too old or too wise, or both. After decades of covering politics and elections, I’ve grown quite cynical about the whole circus, with its cast of revolving ringmasters, juggling charmers, assorted oddballs and canny tightrope walkers, not to mention the few clowns who excel in mayhem and chaos.
I’m not sure about buying into the excitable commentary that suggests Labour’s win threatens either of the two most recognisable ringmasters (Micheál and Leo). A solitary by-election loss won’t finish either man off, although the defeat is certainly embarrassing and damaging for both.
The national media reacted to Ivana Bacik’s triumph by piling the pressure on Varadkar and Martin. There’s no doubt that Varadkar has mislaid his Midas touch in recent months, but suggestions of any threat to his leadership are, in my view, off the mark. I don’t expect Paschal Donohoe or either of the two Simons (Harris and Coveney) to be making an appointment with Louis Copeland any time soon.
Less secure than Varadkar is newbie Taoiseach Martin, although I don’t envisage any imminent move against him either. FF had a terrible day (4.6% first preference share). It’s a very noisy wake-up call for Martin and his nervous backbenchers, but, with respect to the very excited national media, a mid-pandemic coup seems unlikely.
Whatever one’s views on her staunchly liberal pedigree, Bacik is a politician of great ability and passion and she will be a positive addition to the Dáil.
Many years ago, a week or so before some general election, the brilliant RTE broadcaster Rachel English cheerily breezed into our office in Abbey Street. It was, I think, the Roscommon Champion era.
Rachel (now also a very successful author) had arranged to meet me as part of a roving report on the mood of the electorate in our constituency.
The small talk done, she turned the gadget on, held the mic out, and asked me what the local issues of concern were.
After I’d mentioned Roscommon Hospital, unemployment, dwindling farm incomes and the decline of the west, I drew an unexpected blank.
At the time, there was long-running upheaval in Roscommon town, due to extensive roadworks at almost every turn.
“Eh…and the traffic…that’s a big issue too” I suddenly blurted out.
Just as the words spilled forth, I realised my stupidity. After all, Rachel had just driven to Roscommon from traffic-plagued Dublin. An absolute lady, she smiled/laughed at my comment, as I sheepishly insisted on a re-take!
I thought of that amusing exchange today, while spending what felt like ages stuck in traffic on Circular Road. The major works ongoing in Main Street has led to long delays on Circular Road/local roundabouts. It’s probably not as bad as it was about two weeks ago. Still, it’s testing us all.
If it gets any worse, I may have to call Rachel…
Late tonight (early hours of Sunday), Argentina defeated Brazil 1-0 in the Copa America final. It’s a big deal in those parts (as one commentator put it, an international footballer there can aspire to two major titles in their career – the World Cup and the Copa).
What was really significant about tonight’s final was the fact that Lionel Messi finally won a major honour with Argentina. The social media footage of the superstar sinking to his knees at the final whistle was emotional and heartwarming.
Messi (now aged 34) is arguably the greatest footballer who has ever played. One of the arguments against his claims has been the fact that he hasn’t won a World Cup (or, until now, a Copa). Of course Pele, Maradona and maybe even Cristiano Ronaldo also come into the reckoning. The debate will continue, and probably never end.
For now, it’s a privilege to have witnessed the astonishing careers of Messi and Ronaldo, both of which are marked by amazing goalscoring feats and remarkable longevity. I’m very much in the Messi camp. It was wonderful to see him achieve a major career ‘goal’ this weekend.
The Euro 2020 final wasn’t a great match – but it was an enthralling occasion.
I suppose we’re meant to enjoy penalty shootouts because they’re like a great drama – but since this is art that invariably turns to tragedy, I’ve had enough of them.
Before the inevitable late-night heartbreak, we had a two-hour battle which was never less than gripping.
Shaw’s super 2nd minute goal for England came with the curious asterisk attached to such moments, i.e. it almost arrived too early. After all, if you insist on poking a bear while hoping to escape unharmed, it might be wisest not to do it at the beginning of a long visit to the zoo!
A team that was really confident about claiming the mantle of greatness – and its place in history – would have pushed on for a second goal. Instead – and understandably, given their youth and the pressure of the occasion – after a confident start, England began to retreat. Once a rattled Italy settled, they were always likely to punish England’s lack of conviction.
The second half was a procession of slick Italian attacks, the equaliser almost an inevitability. England, never lacking heart and honesty, stumbled under the weight of history. Bravely they hung on, the odd half-chance snatched at, while Italy relentlessly wove dangerous attacking patterns.
Extra-time, tired bodies, heroic tackles, the sense of the menacing shadow of a shootout closing in. When Pickford saved – giving England the advantage on penalties – an unlikely historic triumph suddenly seemed on. But the ghosts of past penalty traumas had lingered over the decades. Cruelly, it was a miss by 19-year-old Saka (a star all tournament for England) which brought the curtain down on this drama/tragedy. There are questions for English manager Gareth Southgate, chief of which might be why he chose young Saka to carry that responsibility while Raheem Sterling and others stood as spectators on the halfway line.
We watched the penalty shootout in our house, all six of us hopping and shouting, gripped by the tension and high stakes. I think it’s an unfair way to decide the outcome of big games. I felt some sympathy for a fine English team, but Southgate’s conservative approach played into the hands of the Italians. I felt sorry too for all the decent English people who’ve been enthralled by this journey, who’d dared to dream. The despicable violence by some English supporters, and the racist online abuse of three of their players, leaves one despairing for the trajectory of elements of society there.
It was a great tournament. Ultimately, Southgate and his players can hold their heads very high. Italy deserved to win. They were the best team on the night, the best team of Euro 2020 too. Given the horrors Covid-19 brought to that nation, it was particularly poignant to see Italians smiling again.
Thoughts inside Barry Cowen’s head (an occasional series): ‘I was appointed as a senior minister…I was sacked after a couple of weeks…now I’m back on the Fianna Fáil backbenches. I’m not exactly centre stage. Okay, I’ll fire off some cryptic tweets. I’ll make myself available to the media. (Weeks go by). Ah, I see our party fared poorly in the Dublin Bay South by-election. Presume Micheál will look into it. Oh no, better idea! I’ll issue a letter to all our TDs and Senators and demand a special meeting. I WILL be relevant!’
PADDY: Doctor? This is Paddy…
DOCTOR: Eh…how are ye Paddy…not sure how you got through to me directly…
PADDY: Ah I was just wondering if there’s any sign of that letter, I was on to your secretary yesterday…
DOCTOR (slight sigh): Is it for the hospital?
PADDY: No! It’s…
DOCTOR: Is it a prescription for the chemist, I know you’ve been a touch off…?
PADDY: No! It’s…
DOCTOR: Is it a letter for your employer?
PADDY: No, Doctor! I just want to go for a pint!